At a state Senate committee meeting Friday, legislators gathered to discuss a surge of unauthorized immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border, and the implications that is having and could have on Georgia.
Among the people lawmakers heard from were Georgia law enforcement leaders and Texas local officials and anti-immigration advocates, who painted a picture of near-apocalyptic disorder in communities close to the U.S.-Mexico border. Committee members also discussed new patterns of drug trafficking at the border, and migrants’ susceptibility to being victims of human trafficking.
“I want this … hearing to be a reality check. I want us to see what the problem really is,” said Georgia Sen. Colton Moore, R-Trenton, chairman of the Senate Committee on Interstate Cooperation.
In opening remarks, Moore noted that a group of unauthorized border crossers arrived in his northwest Georgia district last year, after getting off bus rides paid for by the Texas government to transport migrants to cities such as New York City and Washington, D.C.
“We certainly got an idea of what it means for every town to be a border town,” he said.
The committee’s four other members – all Democrats – were absent from the Friday hearing. But flanking Moore on the dais was State Sen. Josh McLaurin, D-Sandy Springs.
“I think this is an issue that all Americans should be concerned about,” he said. “I think what most voters want from us, as different parties trying to serve in the same Legislature, is to recognize when an issue is important, regardless of what it is.”
Among the first to speak to the lawmakers was Georgia National Guard Major General Tom Carden, who said that there are currently 126 members of the state’s National Guard deployed at the southwest border to assist the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Carden explained that the Georgia National Guard doesn’t come in direct contact with migrants, but rather supports with intelligence initiatives.
As frequently referenced over the course of the three-hour-long hearing, there has been a surge in border crossings under President Joe Biden. In fiscal year 2022, U.S. authorities stopped migrants 2.8 million times at the U.S.-Mexico border – surpassing the previous record set just a year earlier. But a new border crackdown rolled out last month has already sent the number of migrant apprehensions plummeting.
Georgia Bureau of Investigation inspector Jeff Roesler explained that migrants who find their way to Georgia — whether they crossed the border illegally or not — are among the people most likely to fall prey to human trafficking and exploitation schemes. They’re made vulnerable, he said, by the need to repay the sometimes exorbitant fees that intermediaries or smugglers might have charged them to get them in the country.
“They’re coming to make a difference for their family. They are coming to provide. … But what’s happening when they get here is that the amount of money that they owe keeps going up, so they’re in debt and they have no foreseeable way to get out of that debt but to continue to work.”
Roesler said that a recent focus of the GBI’s newly created Human Exploitation and Trafficking Unit has been on agricultural labor trafficking. Georgia made national headlines roughly a year ago when federal prosecutors said dozens of Latin American farmworkers were trapped in “modern-day slavery” on South Georgia farms.
The Senate hearing gave extended speaking time to a delegation from Texas made up of two local sheriffs, a local judge, a state representative, and the president of “Texans for Strong Borders,” among others, who touched on cartel activity at the border and described communities “overrun” by migrants.
Referring multiple times to an “invasion” at the border, they needled the Biden administration for what they said amounted to inaction around border enforcement, and a “wide open” border policy. It should be noted, though, that funding and staffing levels for border protection have remained stable between the Trump and Biden tenures. Border enforcement policies were not discontinued.
The Texan speakers said Georgia leadership can show support for the situation at the border by contributing funds to the building of a border wall, or by joining Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in formally declaring an invasion.
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